x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Rock is stuck beyond idea for academy in Abu Dhabi

Should it be delivered, the initiative would involve teaching professionals working closely with Abu Dhabi's schools and concentrating on encouraging Emiratis to take up the game.

Robert Rock has a successful academy in Lichfield, England.
Robert Rock has a successful academy in Lichfield, England.

PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND // Robert Rock, winner of this year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, said he is growing frustrated in his attempts to open a golf academy in the emirate, although he remains determined to improve the sport at grass-roots level.

The Englishman started preliminary talks with prospective clubs and potential sponsors in April, when he was in the capital as part of his ambassadorial role with Emirates Palace.

Rock, 35, was hoping to capitalise on a heightened profile following his victory at the National Course in January, when he won the Falcon Trophy at the head of the second-strongest field in European Tour history. However, discussions have progressed at a much slower place than he anticipated, much to the disappointment of the world No 59.

"It's unfortunate. I definitely want to do something but it's proving a little harder than I thought it would be so I'll have to be more patient," said Rock, who is competing this week in the Irish Open. "People are interested in the idea, but getting beyond that is different.

"I made it pretty clear I'd like to do it in Abu Dhabi and it's either finding somewhere that already has an academy set up to take it on or starting from new. That's going to be a longer process, but I want to do it only to help kids' golf in the region."

Golf in the UAE continues to be an expensive sport. Of the 19 courses whose 2012 summer rates are listed on the Emirates Golf Federation website, the average cost for a weekend round of 18 holes for a non-EGF member stands at Dh340. A one-year junior membership - applicable to those under age 18 - can be priced as high as Dh13,000.

Rock, who has a successful academy in his hometown of Lichfield, England, believes the UAE needs less-demanding golf courses and accessibility to public driving ranges if it is to attract younger players.

He confirmed his initiative, should it be delivered, would involve teaching professionals working closely with Abu Dhabi's schools and concentrating on encouraging Emiratis to take up the game.

"That would be the idea and I thought it would have been something that appealed because you have a lot of golf clubs in and around Abu Dhabi that need to find membership for the future," Rock said.

"Every club does; junior sections are so important. You can't rely on people starting to play the game later and joining just because they have money. The most successful clubs have junior programmes that get kids' golf under way. I appreciate Abu Dhabi already has some good ones, but more could be done.

"You also need to have shorter, easier golf courses to make things appealing for young players. I don't think people understand that.

The majority of golf courses I see being built at the moment in these tourist-orientated places, whether it is Abu Dhabi or somewhere in Asia, are all throwing up 7,500-yard courses, but they're not playable for a beginner golfer or even the average amateur golfer. So the fun is taken away from it immediately."

Rock declined to name which companies he has spoken to regarding sponsorship, but revealed he had discussed the possibility of working in conjunction with Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

An interest exists, too, in golf-course design in the region, yet the European star concedes he may have to broaden his search to include Dubai or even sites outside the country.

Attracting investment for an academy, though, is his priority. "It's a project I don't want to make any money out of - I'd just like to do it," Rock said. "I'd like to have an establishment in my name there to maybe do other things as well, but the focus would be to start an academy and get kids more into golf.

"All it takes is a few people committed to the idea and a little bit of sponsorship from some companies, because they would get a decent amount of credibility for helping a project like that.

"I need a multinational to really see the benefit of setting it up in Abu Dhabi, or an Abu Dhabi-based investor, but it's taken more time than I hoped. I feel it's a great opportunity and a really good time to do it, but I also felt it was something that needed to be done quickly after my win there to give it the best chance of succeeding.

"But I'll keep trying. I've got something to offer, it's just a matter of whether people are willing to take that on board."

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